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What is Advanced Robotics?

By Josie Myers
Updated May 16, 2024
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The term "advanced robotics" first can into use in the 1980s. It is used to define any sensor-based robots that attempt to mimic human intelligence. They are used in a variety of fields ranging from manufacturing, nuclear, construction, space and underwater exploration, and health care.

Popular culture is filled with advanced robotics. The robot on the television show Lost in Space and movie robots like Star Wars' C3PO and R2D2 were some of the first seemingly intelligent robots that average people were exposed to. In 1986, movie-going audiences met Johnny 5, the little autonomous robot from the movie Short Circuit. While all of these robots appeared truly autonomous, the robots themselves were largely a combination of puppetry and acting.

By the late 20th century, the science fiction of advanced robotics and the reality of it were beginning to overlap. Advanced robots of the 21st century are considered semi-autonomous. This mean that they are able to perform their tasks with a level of independence not found in automatic machines. Those called general purpose robots are able to perform their required tasks nearly independently. Some can recognize people or objects, talk, monitor environmental quality, pick up supplies and perform other useful tasks.

Robots are able to do these tasks through the use of a sensor. A simple example of this sensor is in room cleaning robots that bump a wall and understand to turn around and try another direction. Lawn mowing robots rely on underground markers to tell them this same information. Some of the most advanced robots are able to actually "see" through the use of infrared or stereo vision.

Some of the most advanced robotics of the 21st century are humanoid robots, meaning they resemble humans in their physical appearance as well as in their actions. They are considered autonomous because they can learn and adapt to changes within their environment. Johnny 5 is more of a reality in the 21st century than moviegoers of the 1980s could have imagined. Robots are being taught everything from how to load a dishwasher to mimicking facial expressions in response to particular types of human interactions.

One of the greatest feats of advanced robotics was seen in the rovers Opportunity and Spirit. Opportunity and Spirit landed on Mars in January of 2004 with the intention of completing an approximately 90-day mission. As of January 2009, five years later, they were still in operation. They landed on the surface with a precision unmatched in previous missions. They operate through communications with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and continue their missions through semi-autonomous interactions with the surface of Mars.

There were estimated to be about 3,540,000 service robots in use in 2006. At that time, there were an additional 950,000 industrial robots. In early 2009, Microsoft founder Bill Gates has predicted that every home will have a robot by 2025. Small robots like room sweepers and surprisingly complicated entertainer robots like Furby have been in homes since the 1990s. Given the advances even since those robots were introduced, the future of advanced robotics certainly seems boundless.

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Discussion Comments

By umbra21 — On Oct 18, 2014

@Ana1234 - In some ways robots are already helping people with loneliness. There are videos online of children who are housebound or in the hospital, using a robot with a camera to virtually attend their classes at school.

I wonder if the answer to making robots into true companions is not to make more advanced toy robots but to make them more capable of connecting us with others.

By Ana1234 — On Oct 18, 2014

@Mor - From what I can tell most of their efforts have been centered around making sure that the robots don't terrify the elderly patients rather than necessarily making them into good companions. I don't think advanced robotics is at the point where it can emulate real companionship.

Although I do remember reading a few years ago about an attempt to make a robot baby doll in order to try and stimulate young people in Japan into wanting a baby for themselves. I never heard about it again though so I suspect it was not successful.

By Mor — On Oct 17, 2014

Japan is generally considered the leader in the development of this technology. I've read that the reason for that is the top heavy population in Japan, where they have fewer young people than they need to take care of the much larger population of the old. Japan has historically been opposed to having much immigration, so they won't make up the shortfall in labor in that way, like most other countries would.

Many of their robots are designed to take care of elderly people and, even more than that, to help them to thrive emotionally. And I think this is the reason that they are going to end up succeeding internationally, because people everywhere are more lonely than they used to be and if a robot can help change that, it would be a best seller overnight.

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